Once upon a time, in a land far away, I met an individual I had no hesitation in diagnosing as a sociopath. I'll call him S, and me A. Here's the story as best I recall it:

  • S and A are casual and recent acquaintances
  • S asks to use A's phone. It's a fixed-in-place phone located in A's bedroom.
  • A gives S privacy for S's phone call.

    Next morning:

  • A is getting ready for work
  • A gathers up keys, wallet, etc from the dresser where they live overnight
  • A's credit card is missing.
  • A searches and cannot find the card
  • A eventually gives up, not wanting to be late for work, and calls the credit card company to report a lost card. A is embarassed, sure the cat had knocked the card behind the furniture or something.


  • A gets phone call at work; someone had tried to use the card. They had run off when approval had seemed to be taking too long.


  • A gets phone call at home, from S. S is furious with A because S had almost been caught by the cops.
  • A basically says - of course I protected myself when I discovered the card lost. What did you expect?

    Some days later:

  • S calls A, wanting to sell A something.

    At the time, I figured S for an idiot, as well as a sociopath. Precisely what did S expect A to do when the card was missed? I also figured S was a socipath only because of the angry phone call; otherwise the hypothesis would have been that S was "just" a thief.

    Now I'm wondering. If A had been replaced by N (a neurotypical), what would N have done? Would N have reported the lost card? Would N have reacted to S's angry phone call with sympathy and/or placation?
  • I'm in a bad mood this morning, and I think I'll indulge myself by considering the possibility that if you were to draw a line from the extremely autistic, through those with Asperger's syndrome, through the generally geeky, and then the normals, you'd eventually wind up among sociopaths.

    One common NT behaviour is to make statements based entirely on their expected emotional impact, with no consideration whatsoever of their factual accuracy. Some go so far as to insist that a story is "true" to the extent that it triggers certain emotional reactions. Usually it's clear the term is used metaphorically, but not always. I broke off contact with a woman who wrote a first person fiction for publication in a new age magazine, intended to be published without any indication that it was fiction, and asked me to review it. She claimed to see nothing wrong with her behaviour; it may indeed have been completely normal and well known among contributors to such magazines. For her, the problem was my shock and anger - in fact, now that I think of it, she's the one who broke off contact with me. I've also left jobs when encountering particularly clear examples of management not caring about the truth value of their statements.

    Where does "we all know it's inspiring fiction" end and "this person has no conscience" begin? "We" may all know the new company motto is inspiring fiction, the claimed results of some neo-shamanic practice never actually happened, and the repeated statements that some change is beneficial are just intended to reduce the negative impact. But there are always plenty of "they" who don't in fact know this - all the newbies, Aspies, etc. Now maybe it's not sociopathy, just common-or-garden oppression ("who cares about customers, new hires, and those pesky disabled folks anyway?") Is one only a sociopath if the victims include peers as well as outsiders? Is one only a sociopath if one benefits by more than simply making a living off undeclared fantasy, or keeping one's job as head of HR or facilities?

    As an Aspie, I'm a bit tone deaf in this area. I know many NTs react postively to feel good statements with little or no factual content, and would feel lost and unloved without them. I can to some extent at least accomodate them, though it often bothers my conscience. And I've learned not to protest, except to my fellow geeks, when people in authority over me make obviously false statements, not even when they insist the statement is factual in response to direct questions. I'm not equipped to distinguish my first contact with the latest fad in positive statements from the next Enron - not until I've heard the same load of codswallop from multiple sources :-(

    But that gets to my question - is a sociopath merely someone at the far end of the spectrum, who also can't distinguish, but for opposite reasons? They are very good at producing the feelings they desire (generally trust of them) and judge their statements and behaviour only by its effects (do I get what I want from it)? Is there any difference in kind from normal neurotypicals, or is it just a difference in degree?
    An old friend has returned to school, where he's mixing hard science and feminism. Every once in a while he posts essays he's turned in to his feminist classes. I'd link them, but I'm disinclined to out myself that effectively, since what I'm saying here is neither popular nor clueful ;-)

    Every time he posts, I feel a bit like I've wandered through the looking glass. It's a different language, and one where I've no clue how to start unravelling the threads. Common words have not just new connotations but sometimes new meanings entirely. Other words get used but never defined - at least, never defined where I see the definitions. Sometimes he gets asked to define a term, as well as use it. And that can be where I really want to call "tilt!"

    Today's word to be defined was "discourse". It didn't mean what I thought it did :-( And the presence of a definition for "discourse" left me really feeling the lack of definition of other terms used, such as "patriarchy".

    More importantly, though, it left me wondering who feminist scholars are talking to, other than each other. Among the authors cited (though indirectly) was "bell hooks", who makes a point of non-pretension by removing capital letters from zir name. This plays really badly, for me, with the multilayer use of jargon.

    "Discourse", in particular, is already a term of art among academics. Varying that definition within one's own subfield seems designed to make the subfield impenetrable to outsiders. How does this differ from many of the complaints I see from these same feminists, uttered on behalf of "everywoman" (who clearly can't speak for herself, not being fluent in the argot of academic feminism!). I find this especially telling in a series of essays that regularly discuss "multiply intersecting oppressions", and expresses routine concern about the exclusion of anyone other than middle class WASP women from early feminist discussion (I'd say "discourse", but it would be in the more common sense). Could someone please find me a poor third world woman who has any remote chance of learning the language of current academic feminist discussion, or even a poor American woman? WTF is going on here?
    I subscribe to the linux kernel mailing list (LKML), but I don't read it to any great extent. Most of what I'm interested in I can get from the linux memory management mailing list (linux-mm), and anything I miss that way gets flagged by colleagues, or linux weekly news (lwn.net). On Friday I was reading lwn - their weekly material comes out on Thursday - and found the following headline On kernel mailing list behavior. (I've linked it, but don't expect the link to work right now - it's subscriber only until two weeks after it was posted.)

    It transpires that Sarah Sharp, kernel USB developer/maintainer/wizard, who I had met at AdaCamp, took exception to the tone of something Linus posted, and said so on list. The thread quoted in the article seems pretty tame. It ended with a plan for a handful of people, including both Sarah and Linus getting together to discuss the topic at the Kernel Summit. I'm amazed that the whole thing is "news", in the sense of rating a writeup in lwn. I'm father amazed that the lwn author felt it necessary to implicitly disclaim his ability to discuss the situation factually (rather than emotionally), saying "Your editor will attempt a factual description of the discussion, followed by some analysis" (my italics).

    Sarah has posted about this in her blog. She's farthermore stopped heavily moderating the comments, so as to provide examples of the kind of responses her position provokes. I'm particularly impressed with the no-name kernel wannabees(1) who basically think that if she doesn't worship the ground Linus walks on, she should get out of the kernel community. That's not what they say - they restrict their suggestion of departing the community to disagreement on this specific issue - and imply that everyone on LKML agrees with Linus - but that's how I read their attitude: brown nosed sycophants operating from habit, not even specifically to curry favour. (Linus isn't having a hissy fit, and he's not the type to hold it in if he were even mildly irritated, judging by past behaviour. So this crazy defence of him seems likely to read as "brown nosed moron" to Linus, just as it does to me. Besides, it was on a blog post that Linus probably doesn't read.)

    The whole thing feels like a tempest in a teapot, in part because the comment on LKML wasn't a response to one of the more egregious incidents. Instead, it was about a kind of humor that could be seen as advocating violence (though that was clearly metaphorical) or what some folks would call "verbal violence".

    I've (very rarely) been in places where I found metaphors involving violence to be intimidating. They've all had 2 factors in common:
  • face to face interaction
  • (sub)cultural mismatch, so that I didn't know how to distinguish humour from pseudo-humour from (mild) threats

    LKML lacks the face to face component. On the other hand, most linux kernel contributors are doing their kernel work as part of their jobs. And there's a recent incident where someone (not in the kernel community) complained about harassment at a technical convention, drew down a denial of service (DOS) attack on her company by way of reaction, and wound up fired. So if this were about gender ... and Sarah's working hard to make it be about common politeness, not gender ... there's the implicit (and almost certinly unintended) threat that if you speak up about such things, you could get fired - possibly with a little help from opponents pressuring your employer in illegal ways. And frankly, because Sarah is female, with a blog that somewhat emphasizes this, it's hard to keep people from thinking about gender issues.

    I'm very confused about the whole thing. I can look at bits and pieces, but my overall reaction is confusion.

    I would prefer a less intimidating atmosphere on LKML. I would not pick the linux kernel as a project to contribute to on a volunteer basis, mostly because of the attitude I observe on LKML. On the other hand, I consider Ubuntu to be even worse, without the verbal violence. (They silence criticism/feedback by such techniques as deleting posts on grounds that amount to "new poster failed to follow persnickety rule that runs counter to 90% of the geek community behaviour".)

    Because of my profession, I expect I will be contributing to the linux kernel eventually, but nothing I've worked on so far has meritted upstreaming. And meanwhile, I'm very much aware that I'm a complete unknown in that community, and that getting a "bad name" in it could have significant negative effects on my employability, not just in that niche, but in other niches with overlapping personnel.

    I don't think the "verbal violence" contributes to my caution in approaching that community. I think the caution is about professional reputation. The level of metaphorical violence in these posts is trivial. As for the other behaviours - calling people "brain damaged", "idiots", etc. - well let's just say that my coworkers and I sometimes refer to Linus in similar terms, particularly with regard to certain kernel-wide policies he's enforced, which we consider (ahem) misguided. (My native geek dialect would call the policies "brain damaged". That's not the same as calling Linus brain damaged, but we do that too - for the pig-headed way he's refused to budge on these policies, and appears unwilling to listen to criticism.)

    It is unfortunate, but human, that there are always people in charge, even in supposedly consensus based organizations. People who disagree too stridently are always run out of town. People who've been properly acculturated consider this a good thing, in each specific instance, since the folks expelled are clearly "clueless", "trolling", "wasting people's time" etc. I observed all this, painfully, as a volunteer with a religious organization - which eventually expelled me for irresolvable differences of beliefs about appropriate leadership ethics. I no longer tilt against windmills.

    Enough for now - I see I should be getting ready for work - or even already on the way to work. Damn reality, it interferes with thinking things through.

    (1) I don't have the list of linux contributors memorized, so perhaps some of them have actually contributed to the kernel. Given my facility with names, it's conceivable, though unlikely, that I've even missed recognizing the name of a significant contributor. I doubt it, though, given their responses to people pointing out Sarah's contributions.
  • The internet is full of free services, as are the app stores of cell phones and tablets. At first glance, this is way cool - who doesn't like a freebie? But let's look at it from the point of view of the providers.

    With a few exceptions (governments, non-profits etc.) the providers are in business, and wish to make money. So why would they give things away for free? Well, it's pretty easy to list the standard reasons:

    • encourage people to buy the full version
    • sell advertisements, which are pushed along with the free product
    • build reputation so as to sell other products
    • sell virtual goodies associated with the free service, e.g. games supported by cash shops

    These really aren't objectionable, and don't tend to present the user with surprise costs. But do they cover the whole field? IMO, no. The elephant in the room is google, though Facebook seems to have a similar strategy.

    What these "free" services do is gather data about their consumers. They aggregate a lot of free services under one virtual roof, and work hard to identify their consumers. They don't upsell - google never tries to sell me premium services, etc. They do push advertisements, and google at least claims (claimed?) an ad-selling business model. But it's trivially easy for consumers to suppress those advertisements - 2 simple installations and you'll never see in-browser ads again - and google at least isn't putting significant effort into evading those tools.

    Let's presume that google is old enough, and large enough, that it can't be still indulging in loss leaders, intended to get consumers so used to its services that they'll pay money to retain them once they are no longer free. Let's also presume the management is economically rational, and is pursuing a course they expect to be profitable - more profitable than alternatives. Where is the money coming from?

    In the short run, it's coming from advertisers and similar. But where do they get their money? Ultimately, it comes from sales. Which means, among other things, that it's coming from consumers. Put another way, on average, each consumer pays more as a result of consuming the "free" service than they would if they'd simply paid for the service. At least, that's the hope/intent of all the businesses involved, assuming they are economically rational. The consumers may wind up with one or more advertised products as well as the free service - but without the serivce and resulting ads, they wouldn't have bought the product, would have paid less for it, etc. etc.

    And this ignores 2 other things. One of those is externalities - costs to the consumer (or even to society) that don't provide corresponding benefits to the various suppliers. As a trivial example, consider time wasted waiting for ads to download, or get off one's screen. But there are far more important costs. Google appears to tailor search results based on some algorithm which takes into account consumer "interests". Does this mean that "conservatives" never even see political positions they might object to, and vice versa? What does that do to civil society - we've got enough of that with self selection of news sources, etc., without making the process invisible to the consumer?

    The other potential cost is embarassingly paranoid. I'm not privy to the economics of advertising, but for me, the numbers just don't add up. I don't see how advertising can pay well enough to fund these businesses. So what else is going on? Well, what else can be done with aggregated data? I'm sure there are a lot of people who'd find it useful to know all about someone. These range from private detectives on up through increasingly dangerous people. Stalkers. Terrorists. Repressive governments. And on the less negative side, how about bankers, investment advisors, and anyone selling something with a non-fixed price? At a trivial level, are those annoying cold calls you get the result of searching on google?

    Years ago, the promise of the Internet seemed entirely positive. Why is it that humans are so good at finding ways to turn good things into risks and problems?!

    I listen to CBC podcasts regularly. I recently listened to a 2 part series about moral philosophy, titled My Brother's - And My Sister's - Keeper. Links follow; be aware that if you click on the link, the (audio) podcast will start playing, making these not work safe for shared office space, unless you have your speakers muted.
  • Part 1, on individual responsibility
  • Part 2, on collective responsibility

    The first of these annoyed me to the point where I nearly didn't finish it, so I'm well over my threshold for wanting to talk back. But perhaps it's better to approach the same topic myself, without any footnotes to philosophers, and minimal jargon. And instead of surveying the field, I'm going to talk about what I believe, and why. Perhaps I'll make no more sense than the average undergraduate in Philosophy 101, but I have hopes to do a bit better than that.

    As is perhaps obvious from the title, the topic was the degree to which humans have a moral responsibility to assist other humans, in particular to alleviate suffering.

    Read more... )
  • I started this journal as a place for thinking about feminism, particularly geek feminism, without unsophisticated thoughts showing up to my discredit when someone googles my name. Now I find I want to branch out - there are plenty other topics I'd like to explore from an unsophisticated but middle aged viewpoint.I feel a bit like I'm having a second adolescence - exploring such topics as how people ought to behave - without the naive optimism common among adolescents.

    I guess that makes this a full scale journal, or close to it. It probably won't get much in the way of personal chat, or friends locked posts, but topics are going to be a lot broader.

    It still won't get very frequent posting - my life is and remains a zoo. But it may get a bit more interesting.
    At Adacamp, I found myself feeling that Asperger behaviours and personality traits were being conventionally dissed, in a low grade way, both in themselves and as components of "geek culture". In particular, the pejoratives "poor social skills" and "low emotional IQ" are thrown at Aspies at least as often as "thin-skinned" is thrown at feminists, but while my use of the third of these netted me (polite) criticism and educational input, the other two were clearly subculturally acceptable.

    One of the most pleasant aspects of true geek culture is that no one, ever, throws the first two pejoratives around. Social skills are irrelevant to important matters, like talking about the latest geek toys, participating in a project together, or reviewing someone's work. There are certainly inappropriate ways to do these things, which may themselves draw criticism, but the criticism is generally specific, just like criticism of a piece of code. "Saying 'that sucks' wasn't useful; give us some specifics". "That content-free stream of insults could have been usefully summarized as 'I don't like you'." Or perhaps you get a lengthy critique demonstrating why the generic pejoratives used are not in fact accurate, relevant, or useful. Or someone responds to your response by pointing out all your grammatical and spelling errors. The worst things you can say about a geek's contributions are "that's not true" and "that won't work". Saying things about the geek themself is neither welcome nor relevant, in general. Or it's another topic to explore, generally without malicious intent.

    There are ways for geeks to insult each other, but the target is generally someone's competence, and the criticism has to (attempt to) demonstrate that incompetence, not allege it. And incompetence, unlike many other traits is presumably temporary, unless of course there's a bad track record.

    Read more... )
    I chewed on this some more overnight, and now I find I'm not sure I hit the nail on the head in my previous post. There's a kind of scale in reactions to a statement, between interest in its form, and interest in its content. And people who respond to form can be very irritating to those looking for feedback on the topic. Of course people whose form is sufficiently "off" can hinder communciations on a topic in their own way - who hasn't had the experience of reading a forum post they honestly cannot comprehend, or one so full of invective/rudeness/triggers as to be too distracting/annoying to seem worth the bother of reading?
    Read more... )
    I recently used the term "thin-skinned" to describe the type of person who objects to any expression of disagreement as a "personal attack," or perhaps just plain objects to it. Moreover, I did this on an Adacamp mailing list, which has rules about appropriate language

    I wasn't being very careful in my language, and the result was an email with links to several articles on the abuse of the term "thin-skinned" from a feminist perspective and similar issues. Here's the link collection, for context.


    This is all good stuff, and in the context where it was pointed out to me, it was spot on. I had sent an email inviting people to this blog, and I was so afraid of being flamed/dissed/excluded/regarded as incorrigible/not liked/etc. that my subconscious served up belittling language to attack/marginalize the (so far imaginary) people I was afraid of - and I, who claim to be a competent writer, didn't catch it at the proof-reading stage, since it was "only an email" - to a feminist list, no less. Can I have some ketchup with my crow, please?

    But something about this incident bugs me.

    First of all, we all know there are people who object to any expression of disagreement with them, using whatever language seems likely to be effective. They may claim "personal attack" or "political correctness" or "racism" or accuse their opponent of anything from "communism" to "nazism." The goal is generally to silence one's opponents, sometimes to establish dominance, and/or to enjoy belittling/humiliating/marginalizing them.
    Read more... )
    I've hit a bit of a wall, and I'm short on time to post - I came back from Adacamp with a nice case of "the crud" - doubtless imported from somewhere that the locals have resistance. Yesterday's essay wound up posted "private", because it wasn't ready for prime time when I had to leave for work - wasn't even coherent in fact. So today I'm going to try coming round at a different angle, via Canadian politics circa 1980. I'm guessing that the set of feminists (or other readers) with strong feelings about that time and place is more limited than e.g. the set of feminists with strong feelings about rape jokes at a recent video game presentation.

    The British conquered the area that was to become the Canadian province of Quebec from the French, and administered it relatively fairly, by the standards of the time. Certainly the French settlers were treated much better than native Americans and half breeds. This worked well enough that the French population didn't either try to join the American revolution or support the Americans in the War of 1812. At least, not to any extent significant enough to matter.

    But 20th and 21st century standards are different. By 1950 or so, it was clearly what we'd now call a colonialist situation - not as bad as e.g. Ireland, but not a credit to what had become an independent nation: Canada. Part of the problem was Anglophone hegemony; part of it was the Catholic church, which had a stranglehold on education taking place in French in the province, and used this power to teach basics only - elementary education, with even high school hard to come by, let alone university. And all this with a side order of censorship ... by the church, within its schools, not by the government or in general.

    Then came the Quiet Revolution. (French) Quebecers reined in the Church, mostly via the political process, and set about creating a twentieth century, first world educational system. So far so good; it's hard to argue with this, unless of course you are a pro-Church fanatic, or an employer/politician desirous of a continuing supply of ignorant peons to exploit.

    The problem, however, was that there were English speaking residents of Quebec. As it happens, I was one of them. I was also a child, i.e. attending (English speaking) schools while this was happening.
    Read more... )


    Edit: I've figured out the analogy my subconscious was presenting to me, and I'm afraid it's a bit of a third rail. It has two parts:

    • English speaking Quebecers are equivalent to native-born geeks, a.k.a (some) people on the autistic specturm.
    • American-immigrants turned Quebec French nationalists are equivalent to folks assigned male at birth, but identifying as women now, particularly if they are involved in feminist activism.
    Read more... )

    One final comment - I apologize to anyone who was derailed by my comparison of Quebec with Ireland.
    An awful lot of feminist issues strike me as having a large component that's really about being polite/kind/etc. This morning's reading included an article about some loser whose idea of attractive behaviour was to send a fully nude picture, unsolicited, to a stranger on a dating site. After he failed to understand her expressions of distaste and indignation, she told him she was going to forward the picture to the loser's mother. He wasn't happpy, and instantly went from aggressive to defensive.

    At one level, I see a moron with no social skills, who doubles down on his aggression when he receives unappreciative feedback. That's a bad plan, whatever you just did. If someone says they don't appreciate your actions, then it's almost always a good idea to apologize, and stop doing whatever it was. Don't try out variants either. And that's true regardless of context, short of cases where the action is necessary (e.g. giving an unwanted pill to a pet). In the context of trying to connect with a potential date, it's even more absurd - if they don't appreciate your behaviour, you aren't going to get a date. Duh!

    Yet this thread immediately verged into discussions of "rape culture" on the one hand, and questions about the statistical likelihood of the "send unsolicited nude pic" strategy resulting in success at getting laid, with a side order of expressing surprise that any woman on a dating site wouldn't expect to have creepy guys sending her dick pics. One loser thinks that a self-description asking folks to "love" her provides authorization for any and every kind of "love", including dick pics.

    I'm not sure where I'm going here. This seems to be an open and shut case of "rape culture", except to the extent that no one was commiting or advocating actual rape. I cheered for the woman who contacted the creep's mother. But I'd be cheering for her even if his behaviour was a lot more unusual, and never drew defenders. And I'd be cheering for him if the story were the other way round. Creep=creep=creep.

    Read more... )
    By the definition quoted in my profile, I am a feminist. But that's not the definition I've encountered, in too much of my life. Nor does it precisely describe my position, at least in terms of focus.

    From where I sit, it's not a good thing to force people into categories. This includes pushing little girls to be "feminine" and little boys to be "masculine". It includes treating people differently because of these forced or irrelevant categories. And the more there's a size and power imbalance involved, the worse it is.

    It's also, at some level, inevitable. The human condition is such that we tend to think in categories, judge people based on first impressions, and try to "help" those we care about in ways that may in fact be toxic. After living in the United States for 20 years, I catch myself reacting differently to black strangers than to white ones, as well as reacting differently based on clothing, behaviour, apparant age, etc. etc. I've got these summary expectations that tell me things - not necessarily accurate things. And if those expectations tell me "this person is likely to be a bore with nothing in common" or worse yet "this person is likely to do unpleasant things to/at me", I'm likely to take evasive action almost automatically. I can override these not-so-brilliant ideas [some of the time, at least], and I can certainly keep my mouth shut about my immediate reactions [most of the time] - but I can no more turn them off than I can fly to the moon without appropriate equipment. And as far as I can tell, the same is true for every other human being. We form expectations, based in part on experience, and in part on borrowed experience (things we've been told), and we're very likely to act on them.

    Read more... )
    I am a middle-aged software geek. While I occassionally write essays for publication, they are composed in a traditional fashion - written and polished in private, submitted to a close friend or two for review and feedback, and then sent to my target publication. I'm reasonably competent at this - but blogging is a different skill. While a blog could be carefully composed in private, then published whole, the medium strongly suggests making the development process a bit more public, or even a lot public. And when the blog is also seen as a kind of journal, as compared e.g. to a journalist's regular weekly column, there's still more reason to "publish" material that's still raw and unpolished. There are also advantages to getting feedback, when the goal is to think things through.

    On the other hand, this journal is public, by design. That gives the potential for feedback from folks who aren't at all sympathetic, and have little or no disincentive for flamage. That gives me a strong urge to attempt perfection, so that anyone who reacts nastily must clearly be a troll, suitable for moderation. Except that's not how these things work. Sometimes strongly worded disagreement is merely disagreement, and sometimes it's even right. Of course trolls exist, and may well be attracted to anything labelled "feminist," but this blog will be useless if I react to tactless feedback as trolling, particularly given some of what I expect to be saying. and there's also a strong risk that if I wait for perfection - which tends to include fully thought-out ideas - very little will ever get written.

    So these posts are going to start out raw. They'll be edited to correct obvious mistakes, particularly typos, but changes and corrections to ideas will be done as comments on comments, showing the process. And as for trolls - if I'm so unfortunate as to attract them, I'll use appropriate technological techniques to reduce their impact, and keep on trucking.
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